Thursday, August 14, 2014

FLL - World Class: To Tire or To Track, That is the Qestion...

The FIRST LEGO League 2014-2015 World Class Learning Unleashed challenge is upon us and some teams will be using the Mindstorms EV3 kit. With the Mindstorms EV3 Educational kit comes Tracks and you can also purchase from LEGO Education Rubber Studs that can be inserted into the tracks. If you have Retail Mindstorms EV3 kit you can purchase both Tracks and the Rubber Studs at . Now, the question may arise, what is best to use on this year’s smooth field mat – Tires, Tracks, or Tracks with Rubber Studs????

Well, with the help of my student assistant Brandon, we ran a number of tests on the field mat, using an EV3 robot with 2.125 Balloon Tires and another robot with Tracks & Tracks with Track Rubber Studs. The tests and his observations are as follows:

Balloon Tires (2.125) 
The first three tests were with a robot with 2.125 balloon tires (we used the Pivot Ball as the third wheel). The robot was programmed to move forward 4 rotations with the Move Steering block and with powers at 50, 75, and 100; the performance was excellent. The moving backwards with Move Steering and the results are powers at 50 and 75 the tires are excellent. however, at 100 power it was very good; there seem to be a little friction. We tested turning forward and with powers 50, 75, and 100; turning was excellent. The second three tests with the 2.125 balloon tires using the Move Tank block, the results were exactly the same.

In the first three tests using tracks; moving forward with Move Steering at a power of 50; the tracks the performance of the robot was very good on this power. Then we ran the test again with power, 75; the result was also very good. The last power was 100 and the result was poor, indicating slight slippage and reduce speed.  The moving backward with Move Steering results at 50 and 75 power were very good, but again 100 power was poor. Turning with the Move Steering block, with 50, 75, 100 power gave a fair performance. The second three tests using the tracks and programming with the Move Tank block and turning produced the same results as with the Move Steering block with tracks.

Tracks with Rubber Studs 
Next we added Rubber Studs to the Tracks. The first three tests using Tracks with Rubber Studs, moving forward with the Move Steering block, at the power of 50; although the traction is good, the performance was fair in relation to the speed of the robot. We then ran the test again with next power of 75; the result was also fair. The last power was 100 and the result was fair too. Moving backwards with Move Steering, the results at speeds of 50, 75, and 100 was fair. Turning using the Move Steering block, at 50, 75, and 100 were also fair. The  second series of tests with Tracks  and Rubber Studs; moving forward, backwards, and turning revealed the same results as with the Move Steering block. Note: traction was “bumpy,” but very good using Tracks with Rubber Studs, but very slow even at 100 power.

With this year’s World Class: Learning Unleashed field mat, it seems that wheels with tire treads work the best as far as traction and speed is concerned. It is recommended that teams try out different tire types and sizes. However, teams should not dismiss the use of Tracks because they do give a pretty good performance at 75 or less power. As for the Tracks withe Rubber Studs attached; the traction is good, although  bumpy and  bit slow, but if you have to go over an obstacle its excellent - “Look out! Tank coming through!”

Move Steering Moving Forward


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Review: The LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book...

If you have had an opportunity to read Laurens Valk’s LEGO Minds storms NXT 2.0 Discovery book, then you know it is a good intermediate/advanced book for the NXT robotics enthusiast. Well, with the new LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kit out, Valk has published an excellent “learning manual” for the EV3 kit – The LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book, No Starch Press, 2014. What makes this book stand out from Valk’s other great books is COLOR – lots of color pictures, drawings, and diagrams makes reading this book visually better to understand.

The LEGO MINDSTORMS EV3 Discovery Book is a complete, “beginner-friendly” and introductory guide and reference book to the new LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kit (Retail version - #31313), however, if you have the Educational version of the kit, the book can be used as an additional reference guide as well, because the programming language is the same.

In this book, Valk shows you how to build a very simple robot, Explor3r, and with it you will learn the basics of motors, sensors, and beginning EV3 programming. He begins with a color diagram of the list of building elements that you will need and because it is in color, you can clearly tell which pins, and axle pins to use. All the diagrams are excellent; they show you step-by-step what to do. The Figure 4-7 diagram of the Move Steering block and how the robot and its wheels are moving is great, particularly for explaining the action to youngsters (and some adults :-).
The EV3 has a new file management system where you save Projects, which can have related Programs saved with the Project. This is a nice organizational tool for FIRST LEGO League teams – all mission programs in order, in one folder. With Valk’s explanation of the EV3’s file management system it is easy to understand. Also, along with instructions on how to use the programming blocks, Valk includes practice challenges and tasks called "Discovery." This is a nice practice activity for FLL teams who are just learning the software. These "Discovery" challenge you to enhance the example program that was just explained in the book or even possibly create a new similar program.
Valk then presents increasing sophisticated robots, such as The SNATCH3R autonomous robotic arm, LAVA R3X - a humanoid robot that walks and talks, and even a game playing robot - SK3TCHBOT; that will help you learn building techniques which you will be able to apply to your own creations. With the increasing complexity of the robots you will be learning immediate and advanced EV3 programming. In all, there are about 150 building and programming challenges in the book to inspire you to think creatively in designing and programming your own awesome robots.
I highly recommend this The LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book, No Starch Press, 2014 for LEGO robotics fans who are just getting into the Mindstorms EV3, teacher planning to use the EV3 in their classrooms, and FIRST LEGO League teams planning to use the EV3 in the tournaments.

Note: No Starch Press give a FREE ebook when you buy the printe.


Friday, August 1, 2014

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Review: Reference Books for the LEGO EV3 robotics kit...

As the new 2014-15 FIRST LEGO League robotics season gets ready kick off, I’m sure some teams are planning to use the LEGO Mindstorms EV3 kit this season. To help you learn about the wonderful features & programming of the new kit, there are two excellent “unofficial” EV3 manuals that FLL teams (and LEGO robotics enthusiasts) should check out:


The LEGO Mindstorms EV3 Discovery Book, No Starch Press, 2014 by Laurens Valk

The LEGO Mindstoms EV3 Laboratory, No Starch Press, 2014 by Daniele Benedettelli

In upcoming posts, I will be reviewing each book; so stay tuned…


Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Art of the Brick Returns...

The Art of the Brick by Nathan Sawaya has been touring the country and it is a "must see" exhibit. Mr. Sawaya is a renowned LEGO artist who makes – builds amazing LEGO sculpture and mosaics. 

Image snapping together literally “thousands” of little LEGO bricks to create an amazing model; this is the art of Nathan Sawaya. Sawaya, a LEGO fan since childhood & a former lawyer, has taken a child’s plastic building toy and turned it into a respected art form, inspiring other LEGO fans to create works of art. When one thinks of LEGO art, one thinks of whimsical & fun – it is made of LEGO! However, Nathan Sawaya’s LEGO art also reveals another aspect, one that is expressed all art forms – feelings; what is the artist saying about him/her self, what feelings are evoked in the viewer of the artwork.

In addition to Nathan Sawaya’s work, there is a section by “budding” LEGO artists of all ages.

The exhibit is now back
         (May 29-Sept. 1, 2014) at:

Discovery Times Square
More Than A Museum

226 WEST 44th STREET 
New York City, NY
(BETWEEN 7th & 8th AVENUES) 


Sunday, June 1, 2014

FLL - World Class: NXT or EV3...Update


To NXT, or to EV3, that is the question… Well, that still is the question as the new FLL (FIRST LEGO League) tournament season, World Class; starts with registration now open (May 5, 3014): 
EV3 Educational & EV3 Consumer Versions

The new LEGO® Mindstorms® EV3 has been out for almost a year, so any “bugs” in the software should have been resolved (although setting up Bluetooth on a Mac w/Snow Leopard can be very "sometimes", but the USB connection works fine); and the problem with the rechargeable battery has been fixed. So, teams with the LEGO Mindstorms NXT might be wondering should they shelve the NXT, switch, and buy the latest Mindstorms - the LEGO Mindstorms EV3? Well, consider the following (as Bill Nyes “the science guy” used to say)... at the NYC FLL Finals 2/3 of the teams used the NXT with some teams using the motors from an EV3 (and non-electrical parts) with their NXT which made for some rather interesting robots. However, the new EV3 does have some nice new features, some of which cannot be used in FLL competition, but the parts design and new programming platform with some interesting new blocks makes it a very attractive choice for FLL. So, just from my point of view, if you can (financially), definitely ADD the EV3 to your Mindstorms robotics kits collection and consider this…

     For robot design purposes,
          EV3 motors can be used with the NXT controller
          NXT motors and sensors can be used with the EV3 controller
         If you are new to FLL or Mindstorms robotics and do not have a kit yet, consider buying the EV3 kit and maybe add some NXT motors and sensors for design enhancement (NXT motors and sensors can be purchased separately).      
         Of course, all non-electrical parts work with ANYTHING LEGO.

And if your team can’t buy the EV3 right now, does that mean they will be at a disadvantage?  Not really, in the finally analysis it is not so much the type of Mindstorms kit that they use; it is how a team uses its building skills, programming skills, strategy, and creativeness to build a successful robot. 

So, be creative…

P.S. note: if you have students/team members who have some visual impairment, the EV3 display screen is a nightmare to read (it has a slightly larger screen, but smaller text); the NXT display screen, although slightly smaller, is a little bit better to see. Highlighting an item for selection is almost unreadable, so one will have to memorize the display menu. I actually have to use a magnifying glass/glasses to read the display!


Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Review: LEGO Space: Building the Future...

          Space, Star Trekkies, Battlestar Galactica, LEGO fans, and even science teachers this is definitely the book for you, LEGO Space: Building the Future by Peter Reid & Tim Goddard, No Starch Press, 2013. The title itself is not far from the truth, with LEGO elements actually being used to design prototypes of space equipment, and craft; as well as LEGO elements being sent into space (LEGO minifigs on NASA Jupiter Probe, and Building the LEGO Discovery: International Space Station while in space on the actual International Space Station). The European Space Agency (ESA) has been working on a LEGO prototype of a spacecraft that will be built and sent into space to try and take samples from an asteroid.

     This book is unique because it is not just about building LEGO models, it gives a brief history of The Space Age: illustrated with LEGO scenes – awesome.
Then the book blasts off into a storyline that Star Trek fans would love – The Federation, telling a story about a world space federation forming during the mid-21st. Century to explore the wonders of space. Although it is fictional, it includes facts and ideas that are currently being entertained by space agencies such as NASA and the ESA as they look to the future. As the story continues it is wonderfully illustrated with LEGO scenes, models, and descriptions of awesome spacecraft, and excellent building instructions for the smaller, simpler models featured in the book.


     As a former teacher I would have used this book in my classroom, as another tool for teaching. Science teachers teaching Space Science should definitely consider using this book as another resource. I think students would find it interesting to see LEGO models of spacecraft and futuristic space colonies in the book; and teachers, you can try building models for demonstrations during your teaching of the subject or as a hands-on activity having students build models. LEGO elements can definitely be used as another medium for research projects and LEGO Space: Building the Future is a good resource for ideas.

     As a bonus, if you order the book from No Starch Press, you can get a free ebook
for your tablet device, which is great zooming in on pictures of models and building instructions.

     A great book and fun read to add to your collection...

Note: To see other book reviews on this blog, type in "A Review" in the Search This Blog.


Saturday, May 3, 2014

FLL: World Class Challenge - Registration...

Registration Opens

May 5, 2014

There are some new procedures to registering a FLL team this year. There must be two coaches who will be screened and all youth team members are to be registered in support of FIRST's Youth Protection Program, before the first official tournament. So be sure to check the FIRST website for more information on this new process.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A LEGO Brickumentary...

If you are a young or adult fan of LEGO, you might want to see this Tribeca film, Beyond the Brick: A LEGO Brickumentary playing in NYC, NY April 20, 22, & 26th.

The film is described as a "playfully delves into the extraordinary impact of the LEGO brick , its massive global fan base, and the innovative uses for it that have sprung up around the world." 

Ian Hollander

As an AFOLR (Adult Fan Of LEGO & Robotics, I am definitelt going to see this film! 

Tickets: $20.50


Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Review: The LEGO Adventure Book Vol. 2...

    LEGO fans, if you have had an opportunity to peruse or own a copy of The LEGO® Adventure Book: Cars, Castles, Dinosaurs, and More! (Vol. 1) by Megan Rothrock, No Starch Press, 2012, you will definitely want to have The LEGO® Adventure Book: Spaceships, Pirates, Dragons and More! (Vol. 2) by Megan Rothrock, No Starch Press, 2013. The adventure continues; in the style of Vol. 1, Vol. 2 is written in a story/comic book style with color photos of LEGO scenes, models, and step-by-step building instructions.

    This time minifig Megs (a.k.a. the author) and her sidekick – “brickbot” are off on another globe trotting adventure in her Transport-o-Lux visiting eleven LEGO builders extraordinaire. This time though there is a sinister, evil dude – Destructor & his evil robots – Badbot & Badulator. Her adventure takes her around the world visiting various AFOL (Adult Fans Of LEGO) builders representing different genres of LEGO builders who have a wide range of occupations: brick artist to science teacher to bicycle mechanic to TV Journalist to SQL Programmer.

    At each stop Destructor & his evil robots – Badbot & Badulator have destroyed a model, so Megs gives instructions on how to rebuild/build the model - a rather cleaver way of connecting the model building into a storyline. The storyline is written in text bubbles with cartoon LEGO characters. There are also text boxes offering tips and techniques from the featured builders. For each builder there are color instructions for one featured model, simple instructions for smaller models or part a major model, and pictures of a few of their other awesome models, as well as, web addresses to see more of the builders’ work.


    This book, like Vol. 1, will be a source of inspiration for LEGO builders/fans of all abilities and ages. As a bonus, if you order the hard copy of the book from No Starch Press, you can get a free ebook for your tablet device, which is great for following picture instructions, because you can zoom in on the picture.

    I liked all of the creative models in this book, but if I was to pick a couple of favorites the Fire Tragon, Blue Eagle, Gingerbread House, and the Lookout Hut.

    In all, I am enjoying The LEGO® Adventure Book: Spaceships, Pirates, Dragons and More! (Vol. 2) by Megan Rothrock, No Starch Press and I am looking forward to a Vol. 3 in the near future; at the end it did say, 

Note: To see other book reviews on this blog, type in "A Review" in the Search This Blog.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

NYC FLL Winners...


Winners of the 2014 NYC FLL

Team #

Team Name


Master Blasters
PS94K The Henry Longfellow School
Presentation – 3rd Place


Boogie Bots
Louis Pasteur Middle School
Research – 1st Place


SRCA Royal Sages
Salve Regina Catholic Academy
 Inspiration – 3rd Place


Sonic Gears
Home Team
Research – 2nd Place


Quantum Club
Ms. Lisa Gaye Sechy
Research – 3rd Place


Eltingville Lutheran School Eagles
Eltingville Lutheran School
Gracious Professionalism - 3rd Place


Flood Fighters
Forest Hills Robotics League
Mechanical Design – 2nd Place


Mindstorm Mechanics
Forest Hills Robotics League
Innovative Solution – 3rd Place


Forest Hills Robotics League
Innovative Solution – 2nd Place


Ryan Lions
Ryan Middle School  216
Robot Performance - 1st Place


Team Elite
Afterschool Program
Presentation – 2nd Place


PS/IS 119
 Inspiration – 2nd Place


PS/IS 119
Robot Performance - 2nd Place


PS/IS 119
 Gracious Professionalism - 1st Place


St. Clare's Transformers 2
St. Clare's School
Champion’s - 1st Place
Robot Performance 3rd Place


Prall Intermediate School
Programming – 3rd Place


Mustangs 3
Prall Intermediate School
 Teamwork – 3rd Place


PS 94 Hurricane Pandas
PS 94Q the David D. Porter School
Champion’s - 2nd Place


Bleeker All Stars
Bleeker JHS 185
Strategy & Innovation – 1st Place


RoboTron II
Mechanical Design – 1st Place


The Blizzards
The Chapin School
Programming – 2nd Place


Wild Fire
The Chapin School
Strategy & Innovation – 2nd Place


Tech Titans
Resurrection Ascension School
Innovative Solution – 1st Place


The Automators
Neighborhood Group
Inspiration – 1st Place


Team Karakuri
P.S. 199Q
Gracious Professionalism - 2nd Place


NXT Generation
Riverdale Country School
Teamwork – 1st Place


the Flash
Genesis at Xaverian
Teamwork – 2nd Place


Cloudy with a Chance of Robots
Dalton School
Programming – 1st Place


Robo Rabbits
Dalton School
Strategy & Innovation – 3rd Place


Trinity Gold Team
Trinity School
Presentation – 1st Place


74Robo Hawks
OST at MS 74
Mechanical Design – 3rd Place


Sunset Park Prep - Lego My Eggo
Sunset Park Prep (Middle School 821)
Judge’s Award